ISIS’ best new recruiting tool: Donald Trump
Even though he holds no official power — and sane people everywhere pray that he never will — GOP frontrunner Donald Trump already is undermining U.S. national security with his hate-filled remarks about Muslims.
Trump has gone from vilifying immigrants in general (“criminals and rapists”) to spewing and instigating special hatred against Muslims. After the Islamic State-driven terrorist attacks in Paris, Trump proposed a “registry” of all Muslims in the United States. He talked about shutting down U.S. mosques. He (and many other Republicans) want to ban all Syrian refugees from coming to the U.S., even though those refugees are fleeing the same terror Americans have come to fear. And after the ISIS-inspired terrorist shooting in San Bernardino, Trump now wants to ban any Muslim from entering the U.S. — including Muslim American citizens who might be returning from abroad — “until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.” As if Trump has?
Many people, from constitutional law experts to government officials to candidates from both parties, were quick to condemn Trump’s idea. Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton called his words “reprehensible.” Even former Vice President Dick Cheney, Mr. Waterboarding himself, thinks Trump’s proposal is over the top. Some Republican presidential candidates waited several hours before speaking out against the latest Trumpism and seemed to criticize it half-heartedly, using vague terms such as “that’s not who we are.” All Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus could offer was “I don’t agree.”
Reaction from across the globe, however, was swift. British Prime Minister David Cameron called Trump’s comments “divisive, unhelpful, and quite simply wrong.” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, whose Socialist Party faces a strong challenge from the immigrant-bashing National Front Party, tweeted that “Trump, like others, stokes hatred and conflations: our ONLY enemy is radical Islamism.” Melissa Fleming of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees agency said, “We are concerned that the rhetoric that is being used in the election campaign is putting an incredibly important resettlement program at risk that is meant for the most vulnerable people — the victims of the wars that the world is unable to stop.” Dar al-Ifta, Egypt’s official religious body, dubbed Trump’s remarks “hate rhetoric.”
NBC Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel is a respected journalist who speaks fluent Arabic and has spent years in Muslim countries, both in the Middle East and in Asia, so he has a thorough view of how the rest of the world looks at the United States. In an interview on The Rachel Maddow Show, he spelled out the dangers of Trump’s words.
“People hear and see these [views] around the world and say, ‘This person is leading in the polls right now. That must be what Americans think.’ … From the world perspective, it is an image, a perspective, a black spot on our foreign policy and our conscience.
“And it feeds into the ISIS narrative. … ISIS says, ‘Join the ISIS cause. Because the world is against Muslims, and we — ISIS — are defending Muslims.’ … It’s irresponsible from a national security point of view.
“The reason there are 5,000 people from Western Europe who have joined ISIS and left Europe is because they feel ghettoized, because they feel they’re not part of the community. And the reason we have only 250 or so people from the United States who have gone to join ISIS is because by and large they feel that they’re getting a fair shake and have a shot at getting the American dream. If you change that equation, you will change the numbers.” You can watch the interview with Richard Engel here.
At a news conference and in several interviews on news programs, Nihad Awad of the Council on American-Islamic Relations put it more bluntly, calling Trump’s proposals similar to those in Nazi Germany against Jews. “What ISIS wants from us as Americans is to turn against one another,” Awad said. “And that’s why I say Donald Trump is playing into the hands of ISIS, and he’s doing them a huge service by just helping them recruit, by alienating American Muslims and Muslims worldwide. This is the last thing America needs. … Have we learned anything from history, Mr. Trump?”
Donald Trump has been called — accurately — a bigot, a racist, a fearmonger, and sometimes a fascist. But it’s important to remember that the would-be xenophobe-in-chief is not speaking in a vacuum. This is a problem the Republican Party has created for itself, with its hateful rhetoric about Islam and about immigrants, and it has been years in the making.
“Mr Trump’s long success says something troubling and revealing about the conservative movement, parts of which have become a fever swamp of xenophobia and a plague-on-them-all rage,” said a column in The Economist. “His proposal to close America’s borders to people from a single religion, if taken literally, would leave the country a global pariah and play into the propaganda of extremists from such groups as Islamic State.”
Washington Post columnist Chris Cillizza summed up the problem for the GOP. “Now, with his ‘ban Muslim immigration’ proposal, Trump has become a clear and present danger for a party that badly needs to re-position itself with non-white voters after two sweeping losses at the presidential level in 2008 and 2012. Trump, given his status at the front of the 2016 pack and his increasing willingness to adopt positions on the fringes of mainstream political thought, has the very real potential to cost Republicans up and down the ballot should he be the nominee. And there’s not a damn thing the party establishment can do about it.”
The term “Overton Window” is often used in political punditry and refers to the wide range of ideas the public will accept. It wasn’t that long ago that the kinds of proposals about Muslims that Trump is pushing would have been viewed as outside the pale. But when crowds of his supporters cheer his most defamatory anti-Muslim rhetoric, it has become obvious that Trump has pushed that window open wider than is decently acceptable.
And, we can fervently hope, wider than most Americans want to go.